Wednesday, February 18, 2015

In The Thirties by Edward Upward (Heinemann 1962)

Most of the others, when all of the group had arrived here, sat on the tree-trunks, but Alan and Elsie chose the grass, which was warm and thistle free and had been grazed by rabbits till it was as short as the grass of a lawn. Alan had been carrying his and her lunch in a small rucksack that he now removed from his back and handed to Elsie, who had prepared the food and knew which of the greaseproof-paper-covered packets contained what. She grinned as she gave him the three hard-boiled eggs that he had told her he would want when she had asked him in the flat how many. And he did want them. The walking he had done gave relish to his eating, made it a pleasure so keen that it was like an aesthetic experience. With the eggs there were brown bread-and-butter sandwiches and afterwards he ate a banana and an apple, and he drank hot coffee which she poured out for him from a vacuum flask into a plastic cup. And the pleasure did not end when his appetite was satisfied: it changed, evolved, became a happiness deriving not just from food but also from the presence of the comrades eating and talking around him.

‘How fine they are,’ he thought. ‘How devoted and honest, how different from what anti-Communists say that Communists are, how much better as human beings than their traducers.’ He looked at Lamont, conqueror of dreadful disabilities, and at Lamont’s wife, whose self-sacrifice for her husband had made possible his outstanding work for the cause; at Len Whiscop, born in a slum, mainly self-educated, who was among the Party’s most effective economics tutors and who once, when trespassing on principle, had led a group of ramblers including Alan and Elsie past a gamekeeper holding a shotgun; at Sammy Pentire and his Polish wife Rosa, both of them nearer seventy than sixty but slim and fit, who were vegetarians and had been active for socialism since their twenties; at George Farmer, an Old Etonian who could have made a bourgeois career for himself if he hadn’t chosen the Party; at Enid and Bertha, teachers, who had remained loyal to the working class into which they had been born and whose scrupulous intellectual honesty would allow them to accept nothing on faith, not even from the Party leaders. He thought of other comrades who were not here on this ramble: of Wally first of all, and of Eddie Freans, and of Jimmy Anders. Then he thought of people opposed to the Party: of Mrs Greensedge, who cheated at whist drives and who had once said that her husband would be furious if he thought she was getting mixed up with Communists; of a university don who had alluded to Marx and Engels with complacent contempt and in words revealing that he had not bothered to study their writings; of Christian imperialists paying lip-service to the Sermon on the Mount and expressing horror at the Marxist view that the use of force was in certain temporary revolutionary circumstances justifiable; of young careerists despising the working class they had risen from and abhorring Communism because it contradicted the only principle that made sense to them – their own advancement. Such people were of the class which Alan himself had belonged to, but which he had broken with. ‘I have cleansed myself of their customs,’ he thought, remembering Dante’s line: ‘da’ lor costumi fa che tu ti forbi.’ He belonged at last, without reservation, among these comrades he was sitting with here. They accepted him as one of them, and he knew that in spite of, or perhaps partly because of, his diffidence, they liked him. He loved them, and he would never again allow himself to repine because of the amount of work the Party expected from him, or to hanker back after what he had been fond of in his bourgeois days.

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